We invite contributions to a seminar on the institutional life of period concepts. Period concepts undergird the institutions of literary scholarship, from period journals and conferences to anthologies and undergraduate survey courses to faculty hiring practices aiming to achieve literary-historical “coverage.” Naming a period remains one of the most powerful critical gestures (The Pound Era, The Program Era). Yet most literary scholars would acknowledge the arbitrariness of period designations and would hesitate to invoke a period Zeitgeist to explain all the literary phenomena of an era. This seminar assumes that period concepts are not just a harmless logistical crutch but, through their institutional manifestations, a powerful force that organizes our understanding of literature, and our professional lives, in highly consequential ways. We aim to denaturalize the idea of the period, exploring how concepts and theories of periodization are formed through institutional practices.
What work do period concepts, whether content-laden like “Modernist” and “Classical” and “Early Modern” or seemingly neutral like “Long Eighteenth Century,” do? Are all periods equal, or do some period designations do different work than others? How does comparative work, particularly globalizing work, trouble conventional periodizations–and what institutional challenges does it face in consequence?
We are less interested in local debates about the boundaries of a given period than in comparative and theoretical reflection on the period itself in its institutional manifestations. We also seek new, historically sophisticated approaches to periodization itself, including reflections on literary generations, the longue duree, the rhythms of cultural change, and the relationship to other kinds of historical period (social, economic, political).